First in an occasional post in the Secret London Series. I found this dreamy wisteria in Temple Inn, thankfully open once again as the latest lockdown eases.
Mass Observation Day occurred on the 12th of May. I heard about it on the radio the day before so thought it would be interesting to take part. However, once I’d written up something on the day in question, I realised that it was not at all what they were looking for. If you’re interested in the Mass Observation Archive (“recording every day life in Britain”), then this is the link I used:
DIARY ENTRY MAY 12TH 2021
This afternoon I’m going to start painting white flowers onto the walls of the bathroom. Should look great with the now rather worn out red, which I don’t want to paint over. I need to do something to get out my head. The last two days have been awful, crying all the time and having to talk to myself sternly, but it was also somehow lifechanging. Oh lucky me that I only have to Work From Home two days a week but it takes me five days to recover from those two days and by Sunday afternoon I’m ready to cut my throat. I just worked out I was redeployed six months ago, just before the 2nd lockdown. I’ve never met the team I’m working with and am finding it impossible to “join in.” As for the work, if this job had been advertised I would never have applied for it because (a) I can’t do it and (b) I hate it. And I can’t go back to my nice library assistant job with all my friendly colleagues and fun and laughter and team spirit because of MY FUCKING EYES. I should look for a new job but whenever I think about it, I end up in the same place: I don’t WANT a normal job. I want to be a SELF-SUPPORTING WRITER. I am already a writer. Got that one sorted out. Been at it for too long to start wondering whether it was the right decision. Some things you don’t get to decide about anyway. I’ve always wanted to write and always needed to write and only feel sane and happy and delighted with the universe when I write. I feel like myself when I write (the rest of the time I’m just pretending to be normal). But I can’t get anyone to READ my books. And oh, I’m so tired of this argument inside my head. I must MARKET my books. I must DO something on social media. I must SELL SELL SELL. And I just can’t. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve self-published (honestly, I couldn’t be bothered to work it out….six or seven and quite a lot of short stories) and I haven’t made a single penny out of any of them. I can’t stand it anymore. My misery on social media is killing me, just like my job is killing me. Trying to market my stuff is killing me. This is not what I was meant to do. I was meant to be locked away in my tower in the middle of a forest, writing my strange stories and wandering around with them all inside my head. I can’t live in this world. Shit, how many times have I said THAT. It’s not a suicidal comment. It’s a “fuck this universe” comment. Everything, everything always always always goes back to “I must get published.” “I must find an agent.” If I’d kept all the rejection slips over the years, I’d be able to build that goddamn tower with it. So. Let’s see. I live in a paper tower, miserable and alone and unable to socialise with anyone, friendless, agentless, futureless. I’m fifty seven years old. Today I decided to cut myself off from social media forever. That’s it. I’m done. I’ve had it. It didn’t work for me. I never sold a thing that way. I never sold a thing. My books languish in self-published hell. So now I’m going to go and paint white flowers in the bathroom walls.
This might not have been appropriate for the archive, but it was an important event in my life nonetheless. I really have given up social media because, not that ironically, it isn’t social at all. I need to find new ways to get noticed as a writer. But really, I just need to write.
A Happy Easter to all! If you're a writer, have a great long weekend writing! I'm fired up on chocolate and coffee and I'm ready to go!!
My anthology is published! Wow! I forgot what a rush it is to see a brand new book on Amazon! I had planned to publish it last year, but, you know, 2020 being what it was – quite a lot of my plans turned to dust. I never stopped working on it, though; it just took a lot longer to happen.
The manuscript itself was ready to go by summer last year, only the cover needed work. I spent an intemperate amount of time working on it, really fretting and sweating over it, tearing out my (overgrown lockdown) hair. I’d decided to go with a custom-made cover and really, really wanted to get it right. I researched it, looked at similar books, studied anthologies, tried to find the right pictures. I had, really, wanted my daughter to draw it for me. Her digital art had gone through a phase which was just perfect for the style of book, but she had not only abandoned that style but had no interest, no confidence and no inclination to help. Hence the custom-made cover. I finally found a cover that was similar to what I wanted and I’m SO glad I did because it made me realise what a cliché my idea was! Also, my go-to book cover designers (The Cover Collection) had closed their time slot for custom submissions by the time I was ready. This was actually fortuitous. I realised I wasn’t ready to publish. I hadn’t the energy and couldn’t face the work it would involve. By lockdown 2, I had to find other ways to get myself out of the writer’s funk (the gigantic editing job did the trick!)
New year, new ideas, and I decided to go with a premade cover. The one I found was perfect except the bird. I loved the bird, don’t get me wrong! But it was a trifle too serene and looked just a weeny bit like a seagull. I really needed a crow! I wrote to Debbie at TCC and asked if I could have the bird changed for an extra charge. This turned out to be no problem at all. I had a choice of two birds and four different fonts, all of which looked fantastic. It was great fun choosing the right one!
It’s hard to find a cover for an anthology, particularly one with a mixed-genre. I wanted to highlight the title story and had originally imagined my heroine in her long black cloak and her long black hair, pointing imperiously at a stone tower, a crow on her shoulder and several more on a wintry tree behind her, all swathed in mist. As this was a tall order (and needed the type of artist I can’t afford), I would have settled for a Goth-girl in a long black cloak in a forest with a crow. And some magical sparkles to show the, well, magic. Heh. In time I realised that not only has this been done to death but is very YA. NOT the right genre at all!
But at least I got my crow. And a big spooky moon, delicious colours, some sparkles, and a weird glowy construction in the middle. It isn’t a perfect match but the mood is right and somehow it manages to cover all bases.
Which is what you want, really!
Here’s the link to the ebook (the paperback comes out later this year):
Here’s my Amazon Author Page:
You have TWELVE stories to read. I hope at least ONE appeals to you! If so, please leave a review. My career has reach a make-break point and I need your help!
The publication of my brand new anthology is drawing near! I only need to sort out the cover, then I can head off to KDP and start uploading stuff. But WHICH cover?
There are basically two birds to choose from and four fonts. I need to choose one bird (which can go on any cover) and one of the four sets of fonts.
Please help me choose!
Pick a bird: Bird 1 (on cover 1) or Bird 2 (on cover 2)
Pick a font: Cover 1, 2, 3 or 4.
The anthology has a mix of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, romance, literary. The story in the title could probably be described best as a fantasy tale with very mild horror (so it’s a weensy bit scary, rather than full-on gore). Don’t worry too much about the genre, though. Just pick the one you like.
Who is the first agent you approach? The best one, of course, whoever you think that may be. In my mind, it’s the Curtis Brown agency. So when the time came for me to start trotting my new novel around town, I headed to their website first. They have an online form which, frankly, makes life a lot easier, both for the author and, no doubt, the agency as well. I filled in all the required boxes, clicked send……and was told that I had already submitted that novel.
But I hadn’t! It was the first time I’d submitted the novel to anyone. Had someone stolen my title? Yet I’d made sure I’d never mentioned it on any online platform, paranoically keeping it a secret for as long as possible. Mystified, I sent an email to someone called “info” at Curtis Brown, then moved on and approached another agent instead, one I actually like rather just think are the best.
You should know, at this point, that while I do indeed have a landline, the sound is permanently switched off. In fact, the only reason I have a landline is that I can’t get a good TV/broadband package without one. And also, if you don’t want to put your mobile number on a website, you can just put your landline number instead. When the phone does ring, a little red light flashes, something I absolutely never see. In fact, I didn’t even know it did flash until I spotted it and thought, hmmm, I bet that’s just a nuisance call, but what-ho, I’m in the mood to be bothered, so I answered it.
Can you imagine my amazement when I discovered it was someone from Curtis Brown? And can you imagine my sheer utter embarrassment when I discovered that I HAD submitted that novel before? I don’t even remember doing it! The phone call was lovely but I felt MORTIFIED. It took a lot of hard thinking afterwards to remember that over two years ago, I decided I couldn’t stand working on the novel a moment longer, that it was finished, and that I really needed the help of an editor. So I must have cobbled together a synopsis and the first three chapters and a cover letter and sent it off to them.
BUT WHERE ARE THEY?
I can’t anywhere on my computer find the cover letter and the synopsis I must have written. Did I do this at work one bored afternoon?
Anyway, whatever happened, I had done something mad and stupid and now I couldn’t submit the VERY THOROUGHLY edited novel that was, hopefully, a much better prospect. Unless I changed the title. The title I had settled on originally was “Season of the Falling Sun”. However, throughout the novel, I NEVER use the word “the” in front of “falling sun.” So the title was actually incorrect anyway! It seemed to me fate, or someone else, was trying to tell me to change the title. So I did. And it works. And that’s what I used to submit my novel to Curtis Brown, which the online form accepted.
But after all this, do you think they are going to take any notice of it? I’ve got everything going against me:
But out of this fiasco, I got one thing right: the title. Hoorah.
It’s horrible! I felt horrible! It’s not at all like flu, though it does share some of the symptoms (just not in the same way) and, unlike flu (when you just feel bad), you have the added anxiety of………death.
Because, let’s face it, when you get flu, you might SAY you feel like death but you don’t actually think you’re going to die from it. But when millions of people have already died from coronavirus, the spectre of Death himself with his scythe and long cloak and bony expression does rear up at the back of your mind.
My first day of symptoms, I thought it was a sinus infection, which I get at least once a year. But there were other symptoms that didn’t seem quite right. Nausea, for one, as well as a slightly elevated temperature. My normal body temperature is a bit odd (I think) as it is always quite low, around 36.1 degrees C average. So when it went up to 37.3C, did that just mean I was now normal or was it elevated? Because 37C is supposed to be the average!
My general symptoms were feeling really tired with sore eyes and that feeling you get in your chest when you’re breathing in really cold air. By the next day, Tuesday, I felt worse and decided to order a coronavirus test. I was sure I was just being a hypochondriac and that I was imagining worse symptoms than I felt.
By Wednesday I still felt horrible and had received about ten emails from Royal Mail telling me how they had lost my coronavirus test. I started feeling slightly desperate by Thursday morning and phoned the number I found on Google for a nearby walk-in clinic to get a test. I was astonished to be offered a test within an hour! But shit, I still I had to get dressed and drag my body to the other side of Tottenham Court Road. Walking VERY slowly (for me), I managed to get myself lost too. Actually, Google maps got me lost, telling me to turn right when I should have just gone on another half a block. Not quite sure where the hell they were sending me!
Thank God for postmen. I just knew he would know where I was supposed to go! He did too. And yes, I kept well away from him AND I was wearing a mask. I’m not a fucking idiot! I eventually noticed that there was a sign for the clinic. It was at least an inch square. Gosh, how could I have missed it.
The clinic was weird. No one there except a lot of workers in masks keeping well away from me. In a booth, with a worker at the entrance telling me what to do, I did the test. Having taken part in a random voluntary survey last year to do a test (it was negative), I at least knew what to do. Still gagged with the thingie down my throat (I didn’t bother mentioning that I don’t have tonsils) and was told to poke around my nose for a lot longer.
Then it was done.
Dragged home and by afternoon had a temperature of 37.8C. Man, I felt like shit.
Exactly twelve hours later I got the result: it was positive. It confirmed what I already knew and my first thought was for the people I accidently ran into when going out for a walk the previous Sunday. And also breathing all over the library on Monday when I went in to do some scanning for work. Fortunately I saw no one in the building, but still….
If I felt like shit on Thursday, it was nothing like Friday morning (Day 5): I got as far as the kitchen, turned the kettle on, and realised my body weighed at least nine hundred billion tonnes. I didn’t feel faint but I just couldn’t hold my body up. So I lay down on the shitty hard kitchen carpet and couldn’t move. And I mean, really, I couldn’t move. I didn’t pass out. I just lay there, utterly, utterly without an ounce of energy. I was dimly aware that I was seriously dehydrated and it did occur to me that I may feel better if I drank some water. Jesus H, I have never so badly wanted someone to help me!
I lay there for half an hour. It took another half an hour to crawl to the other side of the kitchen (this makes my kitchen sound vast – it isn’t) and finally stand up long enough to pour some water in a glass. Feeling marginally better, I took a glass of water back to bed and just lay there, listening to the radio, sipping water until at last I could get up.
I sent a message to my daughter on Thursday night to tell her I had Covid and only noticed the next day that she had asked if I wanted to phone (she doesn’t often ask that so she must have been a tad freaked out). Friday was a lovely sunny day. I mean, honestly, the most exquisite winter’s day, after so many dark, dreary dull days. How I would have loved to have gone for a walk down to the river. But my temperature was 38C and I felt utterly horrible. I didn’t even turn my computer on. I dozed for most of the day. Unable to even read a book, just paged through a magazine (an unexciting TV mag).
I notice that I wrote nothing in my diary on Saturday but it’s not hard to guess that I still felt appalling. The three main symptoms were tiredness, temperature and nausea. I had no idea that nausea was a symptom. If you go and look at the list of symptoms, it’s really long! And everyone gets it differently too. I didn’t get the mega-cough that some people talk about. And can’t say I really noticed my tastebuds going dead, though everything tasted like shit and I had a bad taste in my mouth ALL THE TIME. But when you’re feeling literally sick to your stomach, bad-tasting food is the least of your worries.
It snowed on Sunday but didn’t settle. I forgot to have a second dose of Lemsip (the flu drug of my choice) and felt horrible again in the afternoon. I also had the interesting problem of the wrong food! I had loads of food in the fridge BUT it was nothing I wanted to eat. Bright, cheerful vegetables that would surely go off. Freezer full of stuff that was too hard to make. Loads of stir fry veg (cos this is what I eat a lot of). All I wanted was smooth soups. But who was going to make me a smooth soup? I sure as hell didn’t have the energy to cook.
There lots of things I couldn’t eat: rice tasted revolting. I couldn’t drink tea at all and didn’t even miss it. Even chocolate tasted like ash. But potatoes were suddenly delicious. And Christmas cake! Had some every afternoon with my Lemsip! My cereal was still lovely too, hoorah. Best of all, I could still drink coffee BUT only decaf with MyCuppa milk in it. I couldn’t be bothered with decaf instant most of the time – it’s SO boring! But my sad tastebuds looked forward to this one treat every day!
Day 8. Had to email my new boss about my illness. Also emailed my old boss as she is still sort of a boss (this is rather complicated, but beside the point). Needless to say, I got a lovely, long sympathetic email from my old boss (I have never loved her so much!) and a very quick one from the new boss who was about to have a meeting. Hmmm. I won’t comment on that. It was a relief talking to someone about it though, and she recommended that I read a Jeeves and Wooster book to cheer up.
Day 9. Started doing short bouts of editing. Suddenly spending an hour looking for every instance of THAT in a novel was fun rather than tedious. But really, spent most of my days doing very little and having quite a long nap after lunch. No longer needed the morning nap. I am not one of those people who can stay in bed all day. The idea is just disgusting to me. If I can get up, I will. But it took me the entire morning to get going! I would have to lie down between everything I did: getting dressed, breakfast, brushing teeth. And by eleven, having had 3 rests already, I would then end up in my armchair dozing! So when I say “tiredness”, I really mean total annihilation.
Day 10. For the first time in ten days, the nausea began to abate. JOY! I even managed to stand up for long enough to make a broccoli soup. The broccoli had gone a bit yellow but was still fresh enough for soup. While I was chopping an onion, its aroma hit my nose and I realised suddenly how delicious it was! I even picked it up and sniffed it! I mean, usually onion makes my eyes water and I would never do that! Obviously my tastebuds and sense of smell had returned. Must have been connected with the nausea thing.
NHS Track and Trace finally got through to me on day 10. They tried all weekend but my phone was off or I was asleep. I mean, what did they want to tell me? That I was sick? Did I not already know that? I downloaded the app but have since uninstalled it because it was annoying and didn’t tell me anything. I knew exactly who I had come into contact with. A walk on the previous Sunday (no symptoms) I had run into a friend by sheer chance and we walked around for a bit, chatting for half an hour. He didn’t get it, though. I also ran into my neighbour downstairs, a lady in her 70s. I was worried about her but recently saw her and she’s fit and well and has already had her jab. So, please God, I hope I didn’t spread it to anyone. Any deliveries I had, I opened the door half a centimetre and just called through it (also wore a mask).
Anyway, Track and Trace told me that since my symptoms seemed to have gone, I was now able to resume my normal life. I wanted to die laughing. What the fuck! Took the garbage out and my knees were like jelly!
On Friday, I felt better and more hopeful for the first time in almost two weeks but the day was ruined somewhat by the electricity going out twice and a terrible generator being set up outside for the building next door, so loud it kept me awake all night. Electricity went out again on Saturday for half an hour. I dealt with this problem by having a panic attack and crying and phoning the wrong number to find out what was going on. How was I supposed to know you don’t phone your electricity provider but the 105 emergency number! Being without electricity is SO rare and SO desperate but MUCH worse when you feel you can’t manage anything, feel like hell, and have no one to help you.
I half envy those people who only got a small viral load and didn’t feel so ill. But please, if that was you, don’t go around saying, it’s not so bad, you don’t get so sick. Because you know what, motherfucker? Some people DIE from this. Depending on your underlying health issues OR your viral load (how much of the fucking virus you breathed in), that’s how sick you’ll get. Clearly I didn’t get enough to need hospitalisation, but it was enough to make me feel BAD.
Why have I written about this? I mean, I hate writing about sickness and don’t even like talking about it BUT – I haven’t myself come across many personal tales of this illness. Yes, sure, lots of near-death experiences, but I didn’t actually know what to expect. The NHS website gives you as much as it can, but everyone gets it differently, so you can’t know how you’re going to react to the virus.
So I’m going to give you some tiny bits of advice that I have learned:
It’s taken me eight years to get to the end of my Big Novel but it’s done! At last! Bring on the champagne!
I really finished it over a week ago, wrapping up the last of the Killer Edit, and producing a synopsis and cover letter while it was still fresh in my mind. But yesterday I did the final bit of formatting. When I write (directly onto the screen), I don’t use indents as I find them hugely off-putting, and I write in block paragraphs i.e. with a line space between each paragraph. I’ve always written like this as it keeps things neat and tidy inside my head and on the page, but obviously the final product can’t look like this. You certainly can’t self-publish a manuscript looking like that and no agent or publisher is going to look at something so unformatted. So my final act was to add the indents, then go through the entire novel getting rid of those line spaces between each paragraph. And also getting rid of the indents at the beginning of each chapter AND the chapter number (indenting afterwards throws off the centring).
I know lots of people write with tabs. This makes me shudder from head to tail! The horror! But there you are, we all have our different foibles. No doubt anyone watching me write in block paragraphs is filled with the same horror! I just don’t get why anyone would want to use tabs – if you’re self-publishing, you absolutely can’t use that manuscript and have to get rid of every single tab! Anyway, this is utterly beside the point. Once I’d done my formatting, I was done. I felt it was finished. The moment of great finality had come. My novel had reached the end.
I first came up with the idea about eight years ago but didn’t start working on notes until a year or more later. I only know I wrote the first words on the first page in February 2015 because I blogged it on my website. The first draft was the battle from hell and took over two years. When I say “first draft,” I really mean countless drafts. The restarts, the rewrites, the rethinks, the restructuring. The replotting. The gigantic plot holes I had to fill and refill. The rock hard shapeless stone I had to hammer and hammer and chisel and hammer some more to try and find the angel within. It was a nightmare.
When that “first” draft was done, I abandoned it. I changed my writing style and began a series of lightweight novels that weren’t allowed to go over 80K words. I wrote short stories. Novellas. Flash fic. Anything SHORT! Well, shorter than 180K words, which is what it ended up as – it really was gigantic! The novel also underwent several title changes. The heroine had her name changed at least seven times. Even her hair colour changed. Huge chunks of world-building never made it into the novel, or if they did, were cut out again. A huge amount of research was never used. I can’t tell you how BIG this novel was, how MUCH work I put into it. And what did I end up with? A great big rock-solid heavy chunky faux-fantasy style disaster. I ended up HATING the thing.
At the start of 2019 (before the pandemic really took hold), I did a massive edit, called the Red Edit. I tore out 20K words. I hacked and hacked and hacked. And then I forgot I did all this and went off to have a writer’s crisis while the world locked down. It was only when I needed a huge challenge to get me out of my deep funk that I faced the Killer Edit. In this, what would have to be the final edit, I began to strip the novel back. I simplified it as much as I could. I thought I’d be able to rewrite the novel in a whole new style but honestly, I think that might have killed me right off. I just had to the best damn editing job I’ve ever done. I even did things like search over-used words such as THAT, AS IF, JUST and many others as it gave me another chance to rewrite badly structured sentences. I got rid of every single instance of SO THAT, a phrase I used about a million times. I mean, my God, truly, the writing in this novel was AWFUL. I know what I was trying to do, though: I know the mood I was trying to create. But it just made a great big lumpy muddy mess instead of a dreamy gothic concoction. My romantic ideals didn’t work. I also, by the way, got rid of every single semi-colon. Now, I know how to use semi-colons and I hadn’t used them incorrectly, but it was part of the simplification process. Simple punctuation. Simpler language. Shorter sentences.
There are chunks of this novel that still don’t work. Yet there are parts that I am very proud of, that work for me, that are beautiful. But the fucker still comes in at 160K words. No agent in their right mind is going to look at it. I have, over the years, both loved and hated this novel. I’ve called it That Novel. That Difficult Novel. My magnum opus. My prize winner.
Now I’m just going to call it my finished novel.
Just sitting here watching the snow. Too sick to do much else. It's slightly ironic that just when I decided to stop doing my coronavirus diary I should actually go and catch coronavirus. It's bloody horrible. I feel horrible. But the snow is pretty. Makes the endlessly bleak concrete views from my window marginally less ugly. I've tried to take a picture of it but unless you've got some way of actually slowing down the snow, it just looks like, well, nothing really. Although I suspect my poor picture has more to do with the poor view more than anything.
My new year’s resolution for 2021 is to be a writer.
Now hang on a sec – aren’t I already a writer? Am I not self-published? Have I not been writing for years and years and years? Am I not known for being a writer? Novels, novellas, short stories, microfiction, some poetry (a long time ago), even a few screenplays?? Blogs, diaries, articles?? Editor, proofreader, manuscript construction??
Well, yes. But here’s the thing: my beingness as a writer was eaten away during the events of 2020. Anxiety levels as a result of the pandemic eroded my imagination until it felt as if I couldn’t write anything except the dingiest, greyest, grimmest stuff with no space or scope or life in it at all. My creativity, it seemed, was in its own period of lockdown. Another factor that affected my creativity badly was working from home. Don’t get me wrong – I actually liked working from home! I found the admin work, which I hardly got time for when in the library, quite relaxing in its own boring, repetitive sort of way. But in order not to be glued to my computer for eight hours a day, I arranged my work hours differently, which ended up eating into my writing schedule. Also, I found myself checking work emails every single day, not just when I was strictly “at work.” Add to this a whole world of other problems I had to deal with: my eyes, my daughter’s uni problems, the stupendously awful heatwave that hit central London in August, returning to a customer-facing job while others were still working from home, then the shock of redeployment…..
At the end of this, it felt as if the writer part of me had all but expired. It was rising to the enormous challenge of editing a difficult novel that got me back on track. Some time over Christmas to relax a bit helped me to work out how to reconstruct my life around working from home. And how to Be A Writer again.
This is what I’ve come up with so far:
The third point has turned out to be quite important. I’ve been using Moleskin diaries for years, usually the small one with a week-per-view. Then I got a big one, also a week-per-view, but with more space, which I liked. This year I went for something different: it’s a big one again but with a full page-per-day. NO WFH stuff is allowed on these pages. All library work has been relegated to pages near the front of the dairy which show a month-per-page, the days divided up into little blocks. That’s it. That’s all the WFH job gets! The new big pages are my life, my writing, notes, ideas, microfiction, single lines of writing……absolutely anything that is part of my creative life.
Compartmentalising my life, creating a beautiful workspace, and encouraging myself to write down ideas will, I hope, help me on the road to recovery. I want to BE a writer. I don’t want to just “have written.” There is a whole beingness involved in creativity.
That’s what I’m aiming for.
I live in Bloomsbury.
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